Ask an engineer or developer in our industry about where our industry gets its guidelines, and chances are the answer will be "CableLabs" or "SCTE." In reality, the world isn’t that simple. Hundreds Although it’s typical for a handful of organizations to set communications standards in industry segments such as cable, there are literally hundreds of groups that create documentation on how things should be done. Usually, any significant output of smaller interest groups that gains mainstream adoption gets accepted by the major standards bodies and thus becomes part of their sanctioned practices. When interests are common between segments, standards bodies often either adopt or modify the work of groups in other segments. PacketCable is a good example, where Internet Engineering Task Force work on the media gateway control protocol (MGCP) became the basis for PacketCable 1.0 NCS, and 3GPP standards for IP multimedia subsystem (IMS) are being integrated into PacketCable 2.0.

Although borrowing from standards developed for other communications segments makes sense, it doesn’t always happen, even when the same problem is being solved. For example, both cable companies and telcos have been challenged by the inability of operations and support systems to communicate common data. The problem crosses the line between network management and customer care, since provisioning systems need to match customer data with network element data. Many cable operators solved this problem with company-specific system integration projects, such as Comcast‘s Bedrock implemented by Jacobs Rimell. Telco methods In taking this tack, cable’s solutions are similar to, but different from, the ones created by a telephone industry group called the TM Forum. This group’s "New Generation Operations Systems and Software (NGOSS)" includes a common business process map and information model that facilitates communications between operations and support systems.

The business process map, called the Enhanced Telecom Operations Map (eTOM), is often described as a two-dimensional matrix. On a vertical axis, end-to-end groupings that are required to support customers and to manage the business are grouped into the broad categories of "Operations" and "Strategy, Infrastructure and Product." Operations includes subgroups covering fulfillment, assurance, billing, and operations support and readiness. Strategy, Infrastructure and Product covers a strategic development and commitment sub-grouping and two life cycle management process sub-groupings. On a horizontal axis, the model presents views of functionality across a service provider’s organization, such as marketing, service development, and supply chain management, which touch the vertical processes. Using the model, systems integrators and software vendors can develop code that links separate processes and functions, ideally eliminating redundancy and duplication across these functions and processes. Common definitions A shared information and data model (SID) complements the eTOM by providing common data definitions for use in software based upon it. As the TM Forum developed the SID, it found that it was not unusual to have more than 50 separate ways to describe business entities, such as a customer. This disparity means, for example, that each system interfacing to a network operations center (NOC) needs to be modified to provide a unified view of a network and subscribers. In our industry, this modification is often done by the operator’s IT staff or contracted systems integrator, resulting in a one-of-a-kind network management system that requires customized vendor interfaces.

The definitions in SID make it easier to interface software systems that support applications, such as voice over Internet protocol (VoIP) and video on demand (VOD), to each other and to existing databases by standardizing the way business entities are described. Common descriptions allow data to be passed more easily between systems, even when the systems are provided by different vendors.

It may be that intense competition between cable and telcos is one of the reasons NGOSS has not found widespread acceptance in cable. After all, incompatibilities between telco support systems and cable support systems are one way to isolate critical customer and market data from competing parties. Reaching out The TM Forum, however, is now making a renewed effort to convince cable that its specifications provide solutions for cable applications. In October, it issued a press release announcing a "push into the cable space" with the creation of a Cable Interest Group. The CIG is chaired by Kelly Anderson, former president and COO of IPDR.org, an industry consortium chartered to develop and drive the adoptions of next generation IP service usage exchange standards. (IPDR is short for Internet Protocol Detail Record, which refers to the data associated with IP application usage.) As part of a move to broaden its constituency to a wider cross-section of the communications industry, the TM Forum merged with IPDR.org in May. Now, it is looking at the work of IPDR as a possible launching pad to reach out to cable.

IPDR.org is the creator of the IPDR streaming protocol, which has been adopted by CableLabs as the mechanism for gathering set-top box metrics under OCAP 1.1. The IPDR standard is also used in DOCSIS.

Why is the TM Forum is reaching out to cable? Here is what Anderson had to tell me: "Just looking at the standards, we have the solutions to 98 percent of the back office management needs of a typical cable company. We are looking at eTOM, NGOSS and newer initiatives to see how those standards impact cable, but we are also looking at specific needs for interactive media, content management, content settlement, and usage collection." Purpose The purpose of the CIG that Anderson chairs is to define projects for working groups that will address services such as interactive media. She projects the output will include models for data collection that can be used for trending and analysis of subscriber behavior in a combination of technology and marketing.

"We are not looking at building a new OSS, but rather at what data can be used from what is now in place to aid user trending and personalization of services, including new types of advertising," she said. Long way to go In addition to CableLabs, Cox, Time Warner, and Liberty Global are among the initial organizations participating in the CIG, which is soliciting participation by cable companies worldwide. There is a long way to go, however, before both the TM Forum and the CIG become significant players in cable’s standard-setting arena. For one thing, they will need to gain some recognition from the SCTE, where they do not have current involvement, and participation from Comcast, the largest player in our industry.

Justin J. Junkus is president of KnowledgeLink and telephony editor for Communications Technology. Reach him at jjunkus@knowledgelinkinc.com.

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